Apr 18, 2024 - History

Columbus' century of counterfeits

Illustration of a robber's mask with eyeholes shapes like dollar bill signs.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

This may come as a shock, but Columbus has had a lot of fraudsters and con artists living here over the years.

Flashback: Counterfeit money has floated around Ohio since the early days of our state, old newspaper clippings show.

  • On Christmas Day 1903, a man was arrested in Columbus trying to pay his saloon tab with a fake $50 bill.
  • In 1965, an employee of a local print shop made 1,500 fake $5 bills without his bosses finding out, but was caught by the Secret Service.

The intrigue: Our city has proven adept at swindling more than just money.

  • The state automobile department was already dealing with counterfeit vehicle tags back in 1911.
  • "It's a little bit difficult to understand why people who own property enough to afford an automobile should attempt to cheat the state out of the license fee," one registrar complained.

Officials later investigated counterfeit gas rations during World War II, truck decals in 1955 and Ohio Turnpike bonds in 1961.

  • A fake stamp operation was uncovered in 1976, involving the illegal printing of over 1,000 Liberty Bell edition 13-cent stamps.
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